Exercise increases AMPK (AMP-activated protein kinase) activity in human and rat adipocytes, but the underlying molecular mechanisms and functional consequences of this activation are not known. Since adrenaline (epinephrine) concentrations increase with exercise, in the present study we hypothesized that adrenaline activates AMPK in adipocytes. We show that a single bout of exercise increases AMPKalpha1 and alpha2 activities and ACC (acetyl-CoA carboxylase) Ser79 phosphorylation in rat adipocytes. Similarly to exercise, adrenaline treatment in vivo increased AMPK activities and ACC phosphorylation. Pre-treatment of rats with the beta-blocker propranolol fully blocked exercise-induced AMPK activation. Increased AMPK activity with exercise and adrenaline treatment in vivo was accompanied by an increased AMP/ATP ratio. Adrenaline incubation of isolated adipocytes also increased the AMP/ATP ratio and AMPK activities, an effect blocked by propranolol. Adrenaline incubation increased lipolysis in isolated adipocytes, and Compound C, an AMPK inhibitor, attenuated this effect. Finally, a potential role for AMPK in the decreased adiposity associated with chronic exercise was suggested by marked increases in AMPKalpha1 and alpha2 activities in adipocytes from rats trained for 6 weeks. In conclusion, both acute and chronic exercise are significant regulators of AMPK activity in rat adipocytes. Our findings suggest that adrenaline plays a critical role in exercise-stimulated AMPKalpha1 and alpha2 activities in adipocytes, and that AMPK can function in the regulation of lipolysis.